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Beaulah Mae Donald v. United Klans of America Inc. et al: 1987

Klansmen Plot Racial Revenge Murder, Civil Suit Goes After Klan, Klan's Violent History Traced

Claimant: Beaulah Mae Donald
Defendants United Klans of America Inc., Robert M. Shelton, Henry Hayes, Bennie Jack Hays, Thaddeus Betancourt, Frank Cox, William O'Connor, Teddy Kyzar, James Knowles
Claim: That defendants were responsible for the murder of Michael Donald
Claimant's Lawyers: Morris Dees, Michael Figures
Chief Defense Lawyer: John Mays (UKA only)
Judge: Alex Howard
Place: Mobile, Alabama
Date of Trial: February 9-2, 1987
Verdict: In favor of claimant
Sentence: $7 million damages

SIGNIFICANCE: The Beaulah Mae Donald civil suit bankrupted the largest Ku Klux Klan faction in America, establishing an "agency theory" precedent used successfully in future lawsuits against hate groups.

On March 21, 1981, the mutilated body of Michael Donald was found hanging from a tree in Mobile, Alabama. Local and federal authorities were slow to conclude that the 19-year-old black student's murder was the Ku Klux Klan lynching it clearly resembled. After two FBI investigations of the killing, however, local members of the United Klans of America (UKA) began implicating each other before a grand jury. On June 16, 1983, James "Tiger" Knowles pleaded guilty to one count of violating Donald's civil rights, saving himself from a first-degree murder prosecution. Knowles confessed that he and Klansman Henry Hays had abducted Donald at gunpoint. The two Klansmen had driven the teenager to a secluded rural field where they beat and strangled him to death, cut his throat, and returned to Mobile to hang his body from a tree.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988